Review: The Witch, 2015

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This is perhaps the longest I’ve waited after seeing a movie to write a review, and it’s with good reason. As I’ve written before, my favorite movies are generally those that give me something to chew on long after the credits roll. And I have been chewing, and chewing, and chewing for a week, and like an overcooked piece of steak, I continue to chew. Which sounds like an insult perhaps, but I phrase it that way because it’s pretty accurate to how I feel. The Witch is a steak. It’s one of my favorite meals, partially because I don’t get to eat something so delicious that often, but it’s a meal that has to be done just right or it won’t satisfy your appetite.

The Witch is filled to the brim with great ideas and interesting themes. It’s execution is unique, from the basics of the storytelling to the complexities of the sound design. The performances are absolutely stellar (and perhaps the best thing about the film) and bring you into what feels like an almost alien world. But the experience of watching The Witch, at least for me, was one of frustration. I ultimately enjoyed it and enjoyed all the elements of it, but in the moment of that first viewing there’s so much going on, so much “text” in every frame, that it nearly becomes a chore to get through.

Getting to this review a week late means everyone has already talked the feminist angle of the film to death, and tried to refute that angle with some interesting textual evidence as well. I think both readings are fairly valid, because I think ultimately what this movie does best is hold a mirror up to your own paranoia, whatever it might be about. So you bring your own baggage to this and read in it what you will, much like The Shining. I found it to be very particularly about religion, and particularly this idea regarding religion – if you truly believe in a religious law that says there are sinners and saints, and only the saints get into heaven, you are definitely going to hell. Each and every one of you. Not because there’s anything wrong with believing that – but because those laws are absolutely impossible to follow because they go against human nature. As sin has been illustrated and laid out by these power structures, we are all sinners, all the time, no matter what we do, and therefor we would all be damned.

Is that actually what The Witch is about? I don’t know, probably not actually. But due to my own baggage that I brought into The Witch, that’s what I walked away from The Witch with. I think that’s fascinating. I think almost everything about this film is fascinating. I honestly waited to write this review because I couldn’t decide whether it was a brilliant 5-star masterpiece due to how much time I’ve spent investing in thinking about it and trying to unpack it, or if my initial feeling upon leaving the theater, that of frustration, was more accurate. I’ve ultimately decided to go with my gut after this first viewing and be honest and say it was frustrating. But also be honest and say it was fascinating and kind of brilliant in its own particularness (this is a brilliant word that I just made up).

I look forward to watching this again at least once this year and trying to further unpack it and see if it works better for me in full view of its story.

The Witch scored: ★★★☆☆

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